Silk Road Economic Belt: Translators to Get their Slice of the Pie

Representatives of five of China’s northwestern provinces met June 15 in Xining to discuss how to benefit from the “Silk Road Fragrant Books Project” (丝路书香工程). This is a global publishing initiative, given the stamp of approval by China’s Ministry of Propaganda, which is designed to stimulate the translation and publication of great literary, historical and cultural works that are grounded in the cultures of peoples along the ancient Silk Road. Details can be found in this Chinese news piece (西北五省).

The project plan for 2014-20 includes translation subsidies, translations between Chinese and various foreign languages, international exhibitions, and a database of Silk Road publications.

The definition of “silk road” is quite broad, including both the original land-based caravan routes from Xi’an through Central and West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as the so-called Maritime Silk Road that linked the South China Sea, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Predictably, China publishers have rushed to cash in by offering to translate and publish politically correct tomes. The Nationalities Publishing House (民族出版社), for instance, has put in a bid to translate Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政) into Kazakh.

Meanwhile, some titles targeted for translation leave one scratching one’s head.

According to one report, as part of the project the great Kyrgyz epic Manas has been translated into . . . Kyrgyz. That’s bizarre, since the Chinese rendition is a translation of the original Kyrgyz oral classic! More likely, I suspect, is that they have taken the Kyrgyz text recited and documented by the revered (and recently deceased) China-born manaschi, Jusup Mamay, and converted it into the Cyrillic alphabet popular in today’s Kyrgyzstan.

A sampling of other “fragrant books” project news to date:

  • According to a spokesperson for Xinjiang’s SARFT, China’s four vernacular classics (Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, Journey to the West and Three Kingdoms) have already been translated into Arabic and Turkish; Xinjiang’s The Twelve Muqam (十二木卡姆) into English; and the Kyrgyz epic, Manas, into unidentified Slavic languages (see 西北五省).
  • Agreements were inked in 2014 to set up “mechanisms” to facilitate mutual silk road translation projects with countries such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Mongolia (see 立项).
  • The China Reader (Youth Edition) (中国读本), Three Hundred Tang Dynasty Poems (唐诗三百首) and 15 other books are to be published in Kazakh (bidding party: Nationalities Publishing House) (see 民族出版社).

One thought on “Silk Road Economic Belt: Translators to Get their Slice of the Pie

  1. Regarding Manas, the sentence 柯尔克孜族《玛纳斯》已翻译成吉尔吉斯文以及斯拉夫文落户国外 is kind of weird, but it’s conceivably due to confusion on the part of the Chinese reporter. After all, it’s not clear that the writer is even aware that 柯尔克孜 and 吉尔吉斯 are the same thing. It’s possible that China is publishing Manas in both the traditional Kyrgyz and Slavic (=Cyrillic) scripts for the Kyrgyzstan market… This would have the effect of establishing China as a major protector and patron of native Kyrgyz culture.


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